Why does Poplidays.com, holiday rental platform, put its trust in So you Start?

Since 2010, Poplidays.com links estate agencies to users looking to rent holiday homes in France and Spain. To power its e-commerce website, the startup chooses to run its website using So you Start servers and the OVH brand CDN. François Liot, Production and IT Systems Director of the Basque company, tells us more about why he chose So you Start.

Poplidays - Logo

Hello François. Poplidays is a startup which is gaining momentum in the tourism industry. You're sometimes talked about as the Airbnb of estate agencies. Tell us about what you do.

The initial concept was to link, via the web, agencies offering holiday homes and individuals looking for somewhere to go and relax. The difference for individuals between rental websites is the guarantee you get when a professional intermediary, the estate agent, is in situ. Poplidays offers these estate agents, and indirectly to the owners who use their services, good visibility on the web, just like booking does for hotels. During the summer season, we get around 10,000 visitors on poplidays.com per day and manage 15,000 properties (or 750,000 marketable holidays). 1,200 managers from France and Spain use our service.

Since October 2013, Poplidays took on a new dimension by expanding its activity. We became "channel managers", meaning that we provide around 30 partners (including booking.com) an abundance of offers together with web services to manage reservations in real time. Currently, we have 16 team members, based in Saint Jean de Luz. Our turnover is 8 million euros and we experience 30% growth every year.


You didn't use So you Start servers at the beginning of Poplidays. What type of infrastructure did you start with?

We tested out cloud computing solutions provided by French companies and then American companies before we found So you Start. To be honest, it seemed that there was no guarantee that resources for these virtual machines could be allocated (whether it be CPU, RAM or disks). Also, our main application that ran on Java increased the number of virtual machines within virtual and machines made it difficult to investigate the reason for performance issues and consistently improve our software and infrastructure.

We therefore chose to deploy a managed infrastruture, based on dedicated servers, because of both performance and cost benefits. So you Start offers a dedicated environment for a similar price to that of a shared environment.

Poplidays rents 18 dedicated servers with So you Start. Tell us how you've organised your infrastructure.

We host precisely 18 machines with So you Start and three from the OVH brand. We rent our database server from the latter. We needed 24 cores to run our database on PostgreSQL, whereas So you Start offers machines with 8 cores maximum. With the OVH brand, we also have an integration server and a monitoring server, which monitors our and our partners' infrastructures. We ordered these mid-range machines with OVH.com before the So you Start brand existed.

With So you Start, we rent the most important components of our infrastructure: 2 servers on which our database is replicated in real time (stream replication), and 1 backup server on which our database is exported and reintegrated so that it can be used for development and pre-production; 8 servers on which our Java-based application runs (core business); 3 web servers (including one which still has the latest version of our application, which is updated regularly); 1 server for our blog and lastly 3 pre-production servers.

To give an overview, our front-ends in PHP which are load balanced by Apache communicate in REST with the Java application. This application then sends requests - which are prioritised by Pgpool2 - to the database. To speed up response, some requests are cached in the web servers. This gives us a good position in Google searches, and also enables us to handle traffic spikes. We were recently able to test this out after appearing on French news channel, TF1.

You also use the OVH brand CDN. Why?

The data flows generated by our partners via our API consume a fairly significant amount of bandwidth. In July 2014, our traffic surpassed 1 TB! This is mainly down to high-definition photos of products, which we provide in different formats for our partners' websites, which download the full images or point directly to our infrastructureto display images. In short, even though the OVH network is very efficient and bandwidth for each So you Start server is significant (250 Mbps, Ed.), we needed to use to CDN to host our static content. By the way, you should note that for a CDN with a similar technical spec. and an identical quantity of data, we paid up to 6 times more with an OVH competitor!

You said that you chose So you Start, rather than the OVH brand, because of price. You're really focusing on developing your SaaS application, which requires many human resources. With this infrastructure, you've had to let go of some services: load balancer, being able to choose the location of your server, etc. Can you explain how you manage with this trade-off.

Actually, when you manage a cluster of 20 servers, the difference in price between OVH.com and So you Start is clear. With So you Start, the servers are very affordable. I could order a new one tomorrow without worrying about costs, or give myself the "luxury" of having the same machines for production and pre-production. In this respect, we can say that So you Start is a dry offer, i.e. it doesn't offer additional services. To meet our budgetary requirements and our philosophy, inspired by the DevOps movement, this is exactly what we were looking for. Some people would rather outsource coding and the management of machines and backups, but we don't mind doing these things ourselves. Of course a load balancer would be a plus, as would the possibility to interconnect machines via the vRack. We're aware that these services are offered under the OVH brand, and we will probably use them at some point. However, when you're inventive, it's possible to build a high availability infrastructure using the So you Start servers. As an example, as you can't choose where So you Start servers are located, we've actually given new roles to the machines depending on the datacentre in which they're located. We've also managed to split the replication of our database across several physical sites (Gravelines, Roubaix and Strasbourg), while bringing together, within the same datacentre, the application servers that need to communicate extensively with each other.

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